“Bridget? Are you home?”
The door opened, interrupting Gertie’s pounding, but instead of her sister it was her roommate Patricia who answered, looking mad enough to call the residential advisor.
“She’s out,” she said, her words clipped.
“Sorry.” Gertie backed away.
Gertie turned to see Bridget at the other end of the hall. Ziggy, their ghost dog, barked and ran from her heels to Gertie.
“Ziggy!” Gertie cried, grinning as the dog whooshed up to her face and lapped at her chin. Her baseball cap, firmly on her head and supporting the Wespire Leopards, was enchanted and allowed her to see the ghost of their dead dog. Being licked by a ghost was a cold and unpleasant sensation, but it made Ziggy so happy and it was comforting to have the same relationship in death as they had in life.
“Gertie, what are you doing here?” Bridget asked.
“Demetrius has a new hat and I want to take a look!” Gertie passed her phone to Bridget and patted Ziggy as best she could until he calmed down. A green text message from the manager of the Enchanted Hats Emporium glowed from the screen.
“Can you afford it?” Bridget asked, seeing the price.
“I have enough from tutoring the kids in my potions class.” Gertie grinned.
Bridget walked her sister back to her room, where she dropped off her backpack with an apologetic smile at Patricia. Patricia just sniffed in annoyance at Gertie’s intrusion and turned away. She and their other roommate’s attitudes towards the Mallons and their magic was exactly why Bridget spent so much time in Gertie’s private room.
“Can we please hurry?” Gertie asked, nearly shaking in excitement. “You’re not going to believe this hat. If it does what Demetrius says it’s supposed to do it’s going to be awesome!”
The two humans and one ghost made their way to the subway station across the street from Flories Boarding School, descending into the hot halls of the Wespire subterranean transportation system.
The metal train whirred to a stop and the doors opened. Those on the platform waited patiently as a few passengers disembarked. As soon as they were off, the train whistle blew. The ward that kept people from entering dropped, and everyone rushed into the subway at once.
Shoulder to shoulder with other students, Gertie and Bridget shared silent conversations in eyebrow wiggles and pointing with eyes about the lack of personal space from a boy behind Bridget, and the body odor of a jogger who had caught the train at the last minute, still breathing hard and sweating profusely farther down the car.
They got off at thirty-fourth street, along with a couple of other passengers. There wasn’t much to interest anyone on the intersection of thirty-fourth and Puckle Place, at least not on ground level.
One of the strangers hit the up elevator button and they all waited. With a ding, the elevator doors cranked open.
The four shuffled in. Gertie pushed the “S” button at the top of the column of three buttons. One of the strangers hit the “2” and the doors slid closed.
Another ding, and the doors opened on the street level. The stranger that selected the “2” button left, pushing through the “exit” turnstile. Bridget wrinkled her nose as she smelled the stenches of the city kicked up by the pouring rain, and Gertie bit her lip at the sound of the storm.
Ziggy, however, started to wag his tail in excitement.
The doors slid closed and the elevator started dinging, a three note arpeggio of demand. A panel in the elevator wall next to the buttons slid open, revealing what looked like an opal touchpad.
Bridget was the first to pull her card from her pocket and hold it up to the touchpad. Against their father’s wishes, Gertie and Bridget’s mother had gotten them passports for the magical community. The air between Bridget’s card and the touchpad glowed, and the dings stopped, then restarted, bouncing between two notes.
The remaining stranger held her wallet up to the touchpad with her card safely inside. The dings dropped to just one tone.
Bridget released a breath. Since only those who were a part of the magical community were allowed to the top floor of this elevator (for the safety of the community), sometimes people tried to sneak up. Occasionally, just to catch glimpses of the mystical city, but there was always the risk of more sinister reasons. They would claim to have forgotten their passports and try to get the rest of the passengers in the elevator to help them out. There were security measures in place, but it was nice to not have to call on the enchantments that would forcibly remove anyone without a passport.
Gertie finally found her card tucked into the lining of her phone case and held it up. The dinging stopped.
The elevator hummed for a moment, and then started to soar skyward.
The wall behind them dropped, revealing a window for the passengers to watch the ascent. The stranger ignored the view, opting to scroll through emails on her phone, but Gertie and Bridget watched the journey with rapt attention.
The raindrops smacked against the elevator as it flew, creating an intense window-raindrop-race. The girls looked down at the heads of those unaware of the elevator - of the whole city - just above the clouds.
It was a long trip. Magic may be able to distort some things, but physics like g-force would take far too much power to overcome so often. So bubbly music chirped in the background as they waited.
The ghost of Ziggy, invisible to the stranger, sniffed at her shoes, wagged his tail, and enjoyed the view.
Finally, the elevator slowed and there was one last ding.
The doors opened and the three stepped into the center of Shipwreck Park. A fountain with statues of magicians in top hats with canes, fairies floating on waves, cats, and an array of other mystical beings stood just in front of them, with a row of trees and other carefully cultivated plants on either side. The cityscape beyond was towering, sparkling from enchantments in the sun, free from the rain below.
The stranger that had accompanied the girls in the elevator removed her long jacket, revealing two black scaly wings and a tail. She stretched and took a few steps, then flapped off into the sky, jacket and briefcase in hand.
They were back in Skyline.
Ziggy yipped and flew around the park in circles.
“Come on, come on, come on!” Gertie shouted, grabbing her sister’s arm to drag her.
They walked around the elevator which was embedded in the front half of an old pirate ship lodged in the center of the park. Kids still hunted around in it for secret cupboards full of gold and jewels or treasure maps. Even adults did, sometimes. The sails flapped lazily in the breeze. Gertie, Bridget and Ziggy walked through the park like a little parade, headed for Demetrius’ Enchanted Hat Emporium.
It took some walking, a bus, and more walking, but they managed to make it past the city-famous candy parlor without stopping and to the Emporium.
The Enchanted Hat Emporium was an older building when compared to the rest of its city block. Its brick walls had ivy climbing the sides, creating natural curtains to the high windows that flanked the single wooden door. A neon sign declaring the name of the store and its year of establishment was the only external sign of modernization.
Gertie burst in, sending the bell on the door pealing. A stuffed raven sitting in an open cage by the door shook itself to life, and flew out of the cage, cawing as it fetched someone to help the new customers. Ziggy barked in delight and zipped away after it. Raven and ghost dog swooped up to the second level of the Emporium, a ring with an open center that left the shelves visible from below.
“Thank you, Alice,” a voice said, the enchanted animal’s keywords to return to its cage. The raven flapped back, slipped inside its cage and froze again. Ziggy, however, could still be heard barking in the back of the shop.
A lanky man appeared at the railing of the second story and groaned. “What are you doing here?”
“I want the fez!” Gertie called back, holding up her phone.
“Oh, is that all?” He slid down one of the ladders and landed with a thump. Demetrius, co-owner and manager of the emporium, pulled at the bottom of his pinstriped vest and made his way to the door. “And I suppose you would like a discount?”
“Well of course I would like one,” Gertie said with a grin. “A family and friends discount maybe?”
“But you’re neither friend nor family.” Demetrius went behind the checkout desk and pulled out a small blue hatbox.
“Aw, D,” Gertie said, leaning against the desk dramatically. “You wound me.”
Bridget smiled, already familiar with the strange way that Demetrius and Gertie interacted.
“Good.” Demetrius opened the box. “A loyalty rewards discount will be applied.”
Gertie’s smile stretched like a cheshire cat’s from ear to ear. She pulled off her baseball cap and handed it to Bridget, who placed it on her own head. Gertie reached into the box and pulled out a red fez with a black tassel. She placed it on the top of her head and pulled her hands away, waiting for something to happen.
Gertie frowned and glared over at Demetrius.
“Pull the tassel to activate it,” he said. “But take a big step to your right.”
Gertie opened her mouth to ask why, and suddenly a bright blue light flashed and another Gertie appeared, a big step to her right.
“Woah,” Gertie - the old Gertie - said, dropping her jaw.
“Yeah, I know,” the new Gertie - the one who had just traveled back in time via the powers of the fez - said. “Now trade spaces with me.” She put her hands on old Gertie’s shoulders, and the two turned until old Gertie was standing where new Gertie had appeared.
“Now one sharp tug,” new Gertie said. Old Gertie reached up and tugged the tassel.
The light flashed again and she was gone.
“So,” new Gertie, who at this point was the only Gertie, said to Demetrius, “Ten seconds back in time?”
“Twelve, according to the label,” Demetrius shrugged. “A bit longer cooldown though. There’s never going to be three of you.”
“Aw, how terrible,” Bridget said, smiling despite her sarcasm. “Why only twelve?”
Gertie looked at her sister incredulously. “Do you have any idea how much power a time travel spell takes?”
“Fair enough,” Bridget accepted with a shrug.
“Here’s the one manufacturer’s warning type of thing, though.” Demetrius leaned forward onto the desk. “The spell has, among other protections, a paradox breaker.”
“What does that mean?” Gertie asked.
“If you have a future self come back in time, twelve seconds later your hat will make you travel back in time, regardless of whether or not you pull the tassel.”
“Great!” Gertie gave two thumbs up.
“But, if it does that, it can damage the hat. If that happens too many times, all you’ll have is a fez. No time travel.”
“I’ll be sure to pull the tassel then.” Gertie said, reaching for her wallet. “I need this hat.”
“Really?” Bridget asked. “It’s only twelve seconds. How much of a difference can that make?”
Demetrius reached swiftly across the desk to slap Bridget across the face. The light flashed and another new Gertie landed next to the desk and grabbed his hand, preventing her sister from getting hit.
“Demetrius!” Old Gertie shouted.
“Gertie!” Bridget said, gesturing. “Go!”
“Oh!” Old Gertie jumped toward the new one and pulled the tassel. She vanished mid-leap, traveling back in time.
“I see your point,” Bridget said wryly.
Demetrius pried Gertie’s fingers from his wrist.
“I knew you’d stop me,” he told her matter-of-factly.
“But in some timelines you slapped her?” Gertie asked, glaring.
Demetrius shrugged. “Depends on your point of view. I like to think the other timelines no longer exist.”
Bridget put a calming hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Let’s take a look around and you can check your bank account to see if you can actually buy it.”
Gertie nodded, reluctantly handing the fez back to Demetrius and taking back her baseball cap from Bridget. Bridget guided her sister out of earshot of Demetrius, losing themselves in the shelves of the Emporium.
They saw many unique hats - some in half open boxes and some in glass cases - and even more hats on display with stacks of the same boxes lined in shelves beneath them.
There were top hats - magicians’ favorites and able to hold multiple enchantments - cowboy hats - good for animal spells - fedoras, bowlers, deerstalkers, sailor hats, turbans, crowns, veils (wedding and otherwise), spectator hats, smoking caps, bicornes, tricornes, and more. Gertie admired them all and could go on for hours about the pros and cons of different enchantments on different hats, as well as other points of interest like style and history.
“I like the fez, but I can’t believe Demetrius slapped you,” Gertie said, pulling a top hat off a rack and frisbee-ed it into the air, catching it on its way down.
“He didn’t slap me, though,” Bridget said.
“He did in some timelines!”
Bridget waited for her sister to calm down. “You know what he’s like,” Bridget said. “And it’s a once in a lifetime kind of hat.”
“How are you going to feel when he sells it to someone else?”
“So forget that he doesn’t think ahead sometimes and buy it, ok?”
Gertie grumbled and nodded.
They heard barking, and Ziggy came speeding toward them. At least that’s what Gertie saw. Bridget could also see the little ghost of a rat, squealing and zooming past them as it was chased, thanks to her magic eye.
“Ziggy! Heel!” Bridget called, and the dog halted in mid-air, whining as he hovered just above the ground at Bridget’s side.
“Since we’re here, you should get something yourself,” Gertie said, holding up a flowery bonnet.
Bridget laughed. “Come on, let’s go.”
They returned to the check out, where Demetrius was sorting through receipts and entering information in a spreadsheet.
“I wanted to ask you something, if you’re done pouting,” Demetrius said, glancing up.
Gertie stuck her tongue out at the phrasing.
“Okay. Are you done now?” he asked.
“Yes.” Gertie crossed her arms.
“My last shelf-stacker quit to go off to college.” Demetrius folded a receipt and placed it in a box. “I was thinking, since you like hats almost as much as I do-”
“More than you do.”
“Not a chance.” Demetrius responded without looking up. “I was thinking you could start working some shifts here. I’d pay you, and maybe, once you get your apprenticeship license, I can start teaching you to enchant hats.”
Gertie’s mouth hung open, half forming words that she couldn’t put together.
For the first time ever, Bridget saw her sister unable to think of something to say. “She’d love that,” Bridget said.
Gertie nodded dumbly.
“Also, she’ll take the hat.”
Gertie pulled out her debit card and handed it to Demetrius.
He swiped the card and handed it back with the receipt, and pushed over the fez in its blue box. “Now get out of here before I change my mind. Text me the hours you’d be available.”
“Thank you,” Gertie said. She pulled the fez out and put it on her head.
“I can’t believe that just happened,” Gertie said, nearly skipping down the sidewalk, the hatbox under her arm.
“You mean spending your life savings on a single purchase?” Bridget said with a grin.“I believe it.”
“You’re just jealous you can’t travel through time.”
“Well, when you think about it, neither can you-”
There was a now-familiar flash, and someone grabbed Bridget out of the way of a tall, gaunt woman carrying a box of glassware.
“Gertie!” the new Gertie shouted.
“Right, sorry!” Old Gertie pulled on the fez’s tassel, disappearing.
The woman scowled at the girls, not knowing how her wine glasses had just been saved, and continued on her way.
“As I was saying,” Gertie finished. “You’re just jealous.”
Bridget smiled. “Maybe a little.”